By JEREMY HEIGHTON
North Shore BIA
THIS WEEK, I HAD to encourage a member to call the RCMP and press charges to have a squatter removed from his property. It was disheartening, as it was not the route he wanted, nor that we tried to go. But, we were left with no choice.
Here is how it unfolded:
A few weeks ago, a member came to me to request assistance in getting a squatter removed from his lot. The squatter was tenting in the back corner of the lot, and was acting erratically, yelling at passersby, and being antisocial in his behaviours. The property owner (who had just bought the lot) had tried to have the person moved along, but was told by the RCMP officer who attended “he’s not hurting anything, we won’t take him away.”
The owner then contacted me for assistance.
I popped off a note to Bylaw and RCMP Community Policing requesting assistance to move the squatter along, as the owner wanted to start doing some work on the lot, and his workers do not have the skills to negotiate moving a mentally unstable individual.
I received no response.
Then about four days later a letter arrived at the owner’s address identifying that the lot must be cleared of all debris (tall weeds) or the city would be sending in crews to clear the unsightly mess from the lot, at a cost to the property owner. These are the same weeds where the squatter is located. Now, the same brand new property owner who was trying to move the squatter along, to do that exact work, could face fines and a bill.
He reached out to us, and a week later he is being threatened with action if he is in non-compliance.
In frustration, I wrote a letter to the CAO at the City, identifying that these types of situations are the reason that we need a clear understanding of who is responsible for assisting in managing our street populations, who will respond to these types of situations, and how our business owners could act to both protect their property, as well as being good citizens.
I also reached out to ASK Wellness who regularly engage this population group to see if we could get some “voluntary compliance” by the squatter.
I was called later in the day, once the street team had visited. They told me the person was known to them, was not medicated, had serious mental health issues and would not be compliant. This reinforced my assertion that the property owner or his workers are not sufficiently skilled to deal with the situation.
So, what options do we have left for a new property owner, who is trying to comply with Bylaws direction notice? We had to call RCMP and press Trespassing charges. A step we undertook Wednesday morning, giving the squatters 24 hours to vacate the lot, and if we had problems removing them, the RCMP would respond. So, once again, the business owner is left with the responsibility of trying to move along someone they do not have the skillset to undertake.
I want to be clear, this is the last thing we wanted to do. We wanted to have the person redirected to an area where he was permitted under city bylaws. We wanted him to be treated well and with respect. We wanted an amicable solution.
It was a final step in an almost three week saga to have the person removed compassionately.
I’m not sharing this to complain. I’m sharing it because it underscores our very real need to approach community policing, social needs and the relationship between business and the city in a new way.
As a community, we need to work together across all enforcement and services organizations to find solutions which serve all members of our communities, but which also serve our taxpaying businesses and members in a defensible way.
I will continue to push this issue forward and encourage you to also engage in the conversation. Together we can reshape our communities to meet the needs of all.
Jeremy Heighton is executive director of the North Shore Business Improvement Association. He has lectured on leadership and business around the world.